Ancient pagan and Jewish references to Jesus Christ or to the
A testimonium is, for my purposes, a passage written by an ancient Jewish
or pagan author about Jesus of Nazareth, the apostles, or the early Christians. I take
the term from the famed Testimonium Flavianum of
Testimonia from the following authors are available on this site:
Also of interest, the connections
between the relevant passages of Josephus, Tacitus, and Luke the
evangelist; also, the supposed acts of Pilate as attested as
early as Justin Martyr.
The Alexamenos graffito is
akin to a pagan testimonium. There is also a suggested, but highly
dubious, reference to Jesus in On Anger
1.2.2 by Seneca.
I place here a couple of items of interest that do not (yet?) merit
their own separate pages.
First, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, early century II,
4.7.5-6 (Greek text from Daniel J. Theron, Evidence of Tradition, page 18; English
translation slightly formatted from the same):
If a man... has reckoned the material things of life as
nothing, but is glad to play with them and handle them, what kind of tyrant,
or guards, or swords in the hands of guards can any more instil fear in the
breast of such a man?
Therefore, if madness can produce this attitude of
mind toward the things which have just been mentioned, and also habit,
as with the Galileans, cannot reason and demonstration teach a man that
God has made all things in the universe, and the universe itself, to be free
from hindrance and to contain its end in itself, and the parts of it to serve
the needs of the whole?
Wilmer Cave Wright writes:
Julian, like Epictetus, always calls the Christians
Galilaeans because he wishes to emphasise that this was a local
Wright cites Gregory Nazianzen, First Invective
Against Julian 76 (115), as follows concerning Julian (the apostate)
(he named the Christians Galileans and passed laws that they be so
called). But were the Christians known as Galileans as early as Epictetus?
Or was Epictetus referring to different Galileans, perhaps of the sort who
had instigated revolts against Rome?
Second, at the end of the first Apology of Justin Martyr is a letter purportedly
written by the emperor Hadrian to the governor of Asia, one Minucius
Fundanus, circa 125. This epistle is called the rescript
of Hadrian. Apology
1.68.4-10 (also preserved by Eusebius in History of the Church 4.9.1-3):
And we have ordered below also the copy of the epistle
of Hadrian, so that you might also know that we are telling the truth about
this. And this is the copy:
The epistle of Hadrian on behalf of the Christians,
to Minucius Fundanus.
I received the epistle written to me by Serenius
Granianus, a most illustrious man, whom you succeeded; it does not seem to
me, therefore, that this matter should be left behind unsought out, lest men
be troubled and means be given to the sycophants for evildoing. Therefore,
if the provincials should be able to clearly support their petition against the
Christians so as that they be judged before the court, I allow them to do this
alone, but not with petitions and shouts alone. For how much fairer it is, if
anyone wishes to accuse, that you investigate it. If, therefore, anyone accuses
and shows that anything was practiced against the laws, you shall thus determine
according to the power of the sin, as, by Hercules, if anyone exercises the
gift of sycophancy, arrest him for this terror and consider how you should
That, at any rate, is the Greek as we find it in the manuscripts
of Justin, and it agrees with the Greek of Eusebius. But Eusebius
himself informs us in History
of the Church 4.8.8 that his Greek is a translation of the
original Latin rescript as he found it in Justin. In other words,
the extant manuscripts have replaced the original Latin with none
other than the Eusebian translation into Greek.
Daniel J. Theron offers the Latin of this rescript on page 18 of
Evidence of Tradition. He does
not tell us whence he got the Latin, but I presume it comes from
the translation by Rufinus of Eusebius into Latin. It is debated
whether Rufinus retranslated the Eusebian Greek back into Latin or
used the original Latin still found at that time in Justin. I
also add the translation offered in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (slightly
formatted), as it reflects the Latin, not the Greek:
Accepi litteras ad me scriptas a decessore tuo
Serennio Graniano clarissimo viro et non placet mihi relationem silentio praeterire,
ne et innoxii perturbentur et calumniatoribus latrocinandi tribuatur occasio.
itaque si evidenter provincialis huic petitioni sua adesse valent adversum
Christianos, ut pro tribunali eos in aliquo arguant, hoc eis exequi non
prohibeo. precibus autem in hoc solis et adclamationibus uti eis non permitto.
etenim multo aequius est, si quis volet accusare, te cognoscere de obiectis.
si quis igitur accusat et probat adversum leges quicquam agere memoratos homines,
pro merito peccatorum etiam supplicia statues. illud mehercule magnopere curabis,
ut si quis calumniae gratia quemquam horum postulaverit reum, in hunc pro sui
nequitia suppliciis severioribus vindices.
I have received the letter addressed to me by your
predecessor Serenius Granianus, a most illustrious man; and this communication
I am unwilling to pass over in silence, lest innocent persons be disturbed,
and occasion be given to the informers for practising villany. Accordingly,
if the inhabitants of your province will so far sustain this petition of
theirs as to accuse the Christians in some court of law, I do not prohibit
them from doing so. But I will not suffer them to make use of mere entreaties
and outcries. For it is far more just, if anyone desires to make an accusation,
that you give judgment upon it. If, therefore, anyone makes the accusation,
and furnishes proof that the said men do anything contrary to the laws, you shall
adjudge punishments in proportion to the offences. And this, by Hercules,
you shall give special heed to, that if any man shall, through mere calumny,
bring an accusation against any of these persons, you shall award to him
more severe punishments in proportion to his wickedness.
From Lactantius, Divine
Institutes 5.3 (translation slightly modified from that
of the ANF series):
Ipsum autem Christum affirmavit a Iudaeis fugatum, collecta nongentorum hominum manu, latrocinia fecisse. quis tantae auctoritati audeat repugnare? credamus hoc plane; nam fortasse hoc illi in somnis Apollo aliquis nuntiavit. tot semper latrones perierun, et quotidie pereunt; utique multos et ipse damnasti; quis eorum post crucem suam, non dicam deus, sed homo appellatus est? verum tu forsitan ex eo credidisti, quia vos homicidam Martem consecrastis ut deum, quod tamen non fecissetis si illum Areopagitae in crucem sustulissent.
But he* affirmed that Christ himself was put to
flight by the Jews, and, having collected a band of nine hundred men,
committed robberies. Who would venture to oppose so great an authority?
We must certainly believe this, for perchance some Apollo announced it to
him in his slumbers. So many robbers have at all times perished, and do
perish daily, and you yourself have certainly condemned many. Which of
them after his crucifixion was called, I will not say a God, but a man?
But you perchance believed it from the circumstance of your having
consecrated Mars, committer of homicide, as a god, though you would not
have done this if the Areopagites had crucified him.
* Hierocles, referred to in chapter 2, who was proconsul of Bithynia at the turn of the fourth century and wrote a treatise attempting to
demonstrate that Christ was inferior to Apollonius of Tyana.
Thanks to David Blocker for this reference.